The Great Mosque of Touba: Spiritual Home of the Mouride Brotherhood

The Great Mosque of Touba: Spiritual Home of the Mouride Brotherhood

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Islam has a long and impressive history in Africa. The nation of Senegal, for example, has been decisively influenced by Islam and it is the location of one of the greatest mosques in the entire continent of Africa, the Great Mosque of Touba. This mosque is remarkable in size and is celebrated for its architecture. It is the center of an influential Sufi order that is prominent in Senegal and beyond.

The History of the Great Mosque of Touba

The mosque was founded in the late 19th century by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who wanted to create a unique place of worship in the city of Touba in central Senegal. Bamba was one of the most remarkable men in Senegal’s history. He was a member of a conservative Sufi order but quickly grew dissatisfied with it.

As a result, in 1883, not long after he established the town of Touba, he founded the Mouride brotherhood (the Muridiyya). The city was designed to be a place where the spiritual and the worldly could be reconciled and where people could live in accordance with the teachings of the Quran.

Bamba was an influential Islamic theologian who stressed the need for hard work and self-control among his followers. His message appealed to many and he is regarded by the members of the Brotherhood as one of the ‘renewers’ or Mujaddids, of Islam. He was also the first Caliph of the Sufi order. Bamba was a pacifist who used non-violent ways to resist the cultural and political policies of the French colonists who had occupied the territory of what is now Senegal.

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The Mouride brotherhood has gone from strength to strength since the death of Bamba in 1927. The mosque is fundamental to thousands of followers mainly in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mauretania, and Gambia. It is generally accepted that the house of worship has also been pivotal in the success and development of the city of Touba.

Built by a Man Who Believed in Hard Work

The mosque is in the center of Touba, the holy city of the Mouride brotherhood. It took almost 80 years to build the house of worship and it has been continuously expanded on and embellished ever since.

One of the five minarets with Lamp Fall on the right. (Jbdodane/CC BY-NC 2.0 )

The Great Mosque has five minarets and the most famous is 286 feet (87 meters) high and known as the Lamp Fall, named after Sheikh Ibrahima Fall, one of Bamba's most influential disciples. There are three large domes and the location of the mausoleum of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is beneath the central dome, set in a niche and protected by a gold mesh fence. The mausolea of other Caliphs of the Mouride brotherhood, as well as the sons of the founder, lie within the complex.

The mausoleum of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. (Photo by Ummahwide)

Adjacent to the place of worship is an official audience hall and a sacred well, though there are also libraries, offices, and other buildings in the complex. The mosque was built in a classical Islamic style with striking blue and green domes. The Mouride order, which because of emigration is now a worldwide movement, considers the mosque their spiritual home. The current Caliph lives in a residence nearby.

Grand Magal and the Great Mosque of Touba

Every year members of the Mouride brotherhood from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the Great Mosque of Touba to celebrate the life and teachings of Sheikh Bamba. The tomb of the Sheikh, which is believed to have spiritual power, is a popular destination.

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Interior of the Great Mosque. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The pilgrimage is one of the largest in Africa and approximately 3 million followers take part every year. There are events day and night, and these include the recitation of sacred poetry and religious processions. The pilgrimage is so popular that it is broadcast live on Senegalese television.

The Physical Journey to the Great Mosque of Touba

Touba has grown rapidly since the late 19th century and is now home to half a million people. The city is largely governed by the Sufi Order and is just over 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Dakar. There is accommodation available near the Great Mosque in Touba and the city is safe.

This beautiful building is open to everyone, irrespective of their religion, but some restrictions may be placed on non-Muslims during certain periods of the year.

Grand mosque of Touba : Largest mosque in Sub-Saharan Africa

The grand mosque of Touba , Senegal is the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a fascinating architectural representation of Islam’s deep influence on the African nation. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded the mosque at the end of the 19th century. It is home to the Mouride Brotherhood, a Sufi order. And it is also the centre of the Grand Magal of Touba, an annual religious festival of the Mouride Brotherhood.

Construction-history and Architecture

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba (1853 – 1927) is one of the most remarkable characters in Sengalese history. Known in Senegal as Khadimu ‘al Rasul, or ‘the servant of the Messenger’, Bamba was the founder of the Muridiya or Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. And four years later he founded the city of Touba. In one of his treatises, Sheikh Bamba wrote that he founded the city to reconcile the spiritual to the temporal. Sheikh Bamba laid the foundation of the grand mosque of Touba in the same year, i.e. 1887. However, the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa was completed after 75 years.

Initial funds collected for it was misappropriated, which halted the work. After Bamba’s death, his son Mamadu Mustafa Mbacke took over his father’s cherished dream. However, work proceeded at a snail’s pace. Construction of grand mosque of Touba stopped again during the 2nd World War between 1939 and 1947. Finally, the task was completed in 1963. By that time Mustafa Mbacke had also died. Both father and son have been laid to rest in the compound of the mosque.

The built area of the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa is 8000 sq. Mts. It has 14 domes, out of which three are huge, and five minarets. The central minaret is 315 feet in height.

Religious importance of the grand mosque of Touba

The grand mosque of Touba holds huge religious importance to the Mouride Brotherhood. Besides Sheikh Bamba, his other sons, caliphs of the Mouride order also rest in peace in a mausoleum, just beside the mosque. It also has a huge library with a collection of over 160,000 books.

The mosque is the centre of the annual Grand Magal festival. On the 18th Safar, the second month of the Islamic calendar pilgrims of the order from all over the world pay a visit to the mosque. The festival celebrates the teachings of Sheikh Bamba. The festival is one of the largest religious festivals in the world. Over three million people participated in the festival in 2011. I began in 1928, a year after the Sheikh’s death. The festival also commemorates the exile of patriot Bamba by the then colonial French government in 1895.

The rites of the pilgrimage are quite similar to the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. In Touba pilgrims partially circumambulate the Touba mosque, as well as the tomb of Sheikh Bamba. They also visit other holy sites, such as the mausoleum of other Mouride Brotherhood caliphs and the Well of Mercy.

On the whole, the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa, the grand mosque of Touba holds a central place in the religious lives of millions of Mouride Brotherhood believers not only in Senegal but spread across several neighbouring countries including Ivory Coast, Mauretania, and Gambia.

What is the Grand Magal?

In its purest form, the Grand Magal is a religious pilgrimage that takes place once a year (and every 33 years, twice a year). Followers of the Mouride brotherhood – the largest of Senegal’s four Sufi Muslim brotherhoods, accounting for 40% of the Senegalese population – head to the holy Mouride city of Toub, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Dakar, to celebrate the life and teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, who founded the Mouride brotherhood in 1883.

In the local Wolof language, the term Magal means ‘celebration’ and, as the name suggests, the Grand Magal is the largest religious celebration in the calendar. In fact, with the city of Touba swelling from 700,000 to four million over the course of the weekend, the Grand Magal is the largest celebration of any kind in Senegal.

Who is Amadou Bamba?

Amadou Bamba was born in Baol, in central Senegal, in 1853. A renowned poet, mystic, and prayer leader, he founded the Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. He was renowned for his emphasis on work, and his disciples are famous for their industriousness. Bamba led a peaceful struggle against French colonialism.

As his popularity grew, the French government sentenced Bamba to exile in Gabon and later in Mauritania. By 1910, the French recognised he was not a threat, and he was released. In 1918, he won the French Legion of Honour for enlisting his followers in World War I. He died in 1927.

Today, followers donate earnings to the Mouride Brotherhood, who in turn provide social services and business loans. This is the only surviving photo of Amadou Bamba. His image adorns buildings, buses and taxis all over Senegal.

Saint-like status

Following his death in 1927, Amadou Bamba was buried in the then small settlement of Touba, which he founded in 1887.

It can accommodate more than 7,000 people for Friday prayers, and is constantly being improved. When I visited, crates containing air conditioning units sat ready to be unpacked, the gift of a wealthy follower.

Replacement marble slabs, which are cooler on the feet in the heat, were also being laid.

Like the mosque, Touba itself has grown exponentially. Hot and dusty, it is now Senegal’s second city, with an estimated population of one million.

But this can double during the Mouride festival of the Grand Magal, which is held early every year, and which can bring more than a million visiting pilgrims on to the streets.

Amadou Bamba’s vision of Islam was one which has at its very core the precepts of non-violence and hard work.

Since his death, Touba and the Mouride Brotherhood have been controlled by Bamba’s sons, and grandsons, several of whom have held the position of Caliph – the spiritual head of the order.

Out of a population of some 14 million, there are thought to be anything between three and five million Mourides in Senegal.

Mouridism is, for me, two paths: one is the way to God, the other path is the doctrine of work and dignity. Because if you don’t work, you hold your hand out and lose your dignity” Youssou N’Dour, Musician

Famous followers

They include the humblest of peasants to Senegal’s now somewhat beleaguered president, Abdoulaye Wade, who has recently faced intense criticism amid recent protests against proposed changes to the constitution.

Perhaps the best-known follower of Mouridism is the musician Youssou N’Dour.

When I met him in the television station he owns in Dakar, he talked about his 2004 Grammy award-winning album Egypt, which celebrated Amadou Bamba and Mouridism.

He argues Mouridism is a counter to the post-9/11 stereotype of Muslims. “In the West, you read all about terrorism… we’re all lumped together. But those of us who understand that it’s a religion of peace, love and sharing mustn’t give up.

“Mouridism is for me two paths – one is the way to God, the other path is the doctrine of work and dignity. Because if you don’t work, you hold your hand out and lose your dignity.”

Amadou Bamba was exiled by the French, the colonial power in Senegal during his lifetime. So as well as preaching the virtues of hard work, N’Dour says Bamba inspired his followers to travel.

Of course, like other migrants from poor countries, many Senegalese go abroad because they are looking for work and because they want to send money home to their families, but Mourides have an additional spiritual motivation.

Abroad and at home, Mouridism not only preaches self-help, but also the responsibility to look after others within the Brotherhood.

One of the things that distinguishes Sufism from other branches of Islam is the role of spiritual guides, known in Senegal as marabouts.

These marabouts help their followers make business deals and introduce their followers to important contacts.

After fighting through the choking traffic on the outskirts of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, I visit Oumar Fall, the commercial director of Diprom, a major oil and gas firm.

It owns a chain of petrol stations called Touba Oil, whose logo is an image of the tallest minaret of Bamba’s mosque.

He tells me that the firm has done well with contacts made through marabouts. Marabouts will even help negotiate and settle disputes, he says.

And if a business deal is successful, a marabout can expect financial compensation, and followers will usually donate money to the Brotherhood.

Political clout

Ninety five per cent of Senegal’s population is Muslim, and the vast majority belong to one Sufi brotherhood or another.

Mouridism is the youngest, and said to be the most dynamic, not least because it is organised in a strict pyramid structure headed by the Caliph.

The structures of the others are far more dispersed and thus arguably weaker.

Another reason for the popularity of Mouridism is that it is the only brotherhood founded by a Senegalese. The image of Amadou Bamba is everywhere in Senegal, plastered on car and bus windscreens, in shops and carried in charms around people’s necks. Giant portraits of him loom out at you from painted city walls.

But, says Latir Mane, the political editor of L’Observateur, a newspaper owned by Youssou N’dour, many non-Mourides chafe at what they see as the overweening economic and political power of the Mourides.

All politicians he says, even non-Mourides, look for endorsement from Touba because they want Mouride votes.

“Nowadays religion is deeply immersed in politics,” he says.

If the Caliph issues an ndigel, or order, all Mourides are bound to follow, says Mr Mane, which gives the Caliph significant political clout.

However, he says, the fact that there are now so many Mourides, whose political interests are not all the same, means that the Caliph’s power is less than it would have been in years gone by.

Still, with an aura of success about it, Mouridism is a growing movement and now says Mr Mane, many are joining, not because they believe in it as such, but because they see it as good way to get ahead in life.


Great Mosque of Touba, Senegal ( Enlarge)

Soaring skyward from the dusty plains of western Senegal (170 kilometers due east of the capital of Dakar), stands the Great Mosque of Touba. Constructed in 1926 to house the tomb of the Senegalese saint, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, the enormous mosque is the most visited Islamic pilgrimage site in West Africa.

Islam has existed in Senegal for over a thousand years. The first ethnic groups to accept the religion of Muhammad were the Tukulóor kingdoms during the 11th century, and by the beginning of the 20th century, most of Senegal had been entirely Islamized. However, the style of Islam practiced in Senegal is significantly different than that found in most other Islamic countries. The Islam of Senegal is similar to the mystical Sufi tradition, which is characterized by its reverence of spiritual beings (alive or dead) that are believed to embody extraordinary amounts of baraka, or divine grace. In Senegal, Islamic practice takes the form of membership in religious brotherhoods that are dedicated to the marabouts (the founders or current spiritual leaders) of these brotherhoods. The three main sects in Senegal are:

  • The Xaadir (Qadriyya) brotherhood, founded in Mauritania, is the smallest and oldest brotherhood in Senegal.
  • The Tijaan (Tijaniyya) brotherhood, founded in Algeria and practiced all over West Africa.
  • The Mouride brotherhood, founded in Senegal by the Senegalese saint Amadou Bamba.

Members of these brotherhoods vow obedience to their marabouts. The marabouts are considered to be stewards and inheritors of the baraka, or divine grace of their brotherhood's founder. Through the force of their personal baraka, marabouts are believed to have the power to heal illness and grant spiritual salvation to their followers. Most marabouts inherit their position and their disciples from their fathers. Marabouts of any brotherhood are expected to teach and counsel their followers, but marabouts of the Mouride brotherhood usually devote less time to study and teaching than they devote to organizing their disciples' work and making amulets for their disciples (these amulets, called grigri, are small leather bundles containing quotes from the Koran and are believed to protect disciples from harm, sickness, or evil).

Renovations of the minaret, Great Mosque of Touba ( Enlarge)

The Mouride brotherhood was begun by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba (also known as Ahmed Ben Mohammed Ben Abib Allah or Khadimou Rassoul). Bamba was born in the village of Mbacké-Baol and lived from 1850 to 1927. The son of a marabout from the Xaadir brotherhood, Bamba was a mystic and ascetic more interested in meditation and Koranic study than in building a theocratic empire. He was also a pacifist and did not wage war on pagans as many Tijaan marabouts had done. In the first years of his religious career, Amadou Bamba had simply performed standard maraboutic functions such as teaching the Koran and preparing amulets for his followers.

Bamba did not consider himself a prophet but rather a messenger of God (one of the basic tenets of Islam is that there can be no other prophets after Muhammad, but the members of the Senegalese brotherhoods cite a passage in the Koran which states that God will send messengers every 100 years. The members of these brotherhoods believe that the founders of the brotherhoods were among these messengers). Because of his extraordinary charisma and wisdom, Bamba found that many of his followers were coming to him to partake of his baraka and to serve him rather than to learn the Koran. Although Amadou Bamba never proselytized on a national level, his fame grew rapidly through the efforts of his followers, and people flocked to him to receive the salvation that he promised his followers. The focus of his teachings was that salvation was gained through submission to the marabout and hard work.

The French colonial government feared that Amadou Bamba was gaining too much power and might be in a position to wage war against them. Although he apparently never demonstrated any such desire, he had converted various local kings and their followers and could have raised a great army had he so desired. Without bringing any legal charges against Bamba, the colonial government sentenced him to exile in Gabon (1895 to 1902) and then to Mauritania (1903 to 1907). The effect of these exiles, however, were quite the opposite of what the French expected: legends about Bamba's miraculous survival of torture, deprivation, and attempted executions spread through Senegal while he was gone, and thousands more disciples flocked to his community.

To this day, Mourides tell legends of Bamba's exile with great excitement and firm belief. For example, while on the ship to Gabon, the French forbade Bamba from praying. As praying was a divine law that he could not break, Bamba broke out of the shackles, leapt overboard and prayed on a prayer rug that he materialized on the water. When he lifted his head after his prostrations, the French authorities were astonished to see sand on his forehead. Other legends relate that when the French put him in a furnace, he simply sat down in it and drank tea with Muhammad. When they put him in a den of hungry lions, the lions just slept beside him.

Pilgrims at mausoleum of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, Touba Mosque ( Enlarge)

After he returned to Senegal from his second exile, his discipleship continued to grow phenomenally. In 1910, it finally dawned on the French that Bamba was not plotting war against them and their relations with him improved dramatically. The French actually began to see Bamba as an asset rather than as a threat, as they could use him to disseminate and enforce policies (he won the French Legion of Honor in 1918 for enlisting hundreds of followers to fight in the First World War). The French allowed him to found his holy city of Touba and, in 1926, to make a start on the great mosque in which he is buried (Bamba received his famous vision in the wilderness in what is now Touba. This vision told him of his prophetic mission and of the need to build a holy city at the site).

Even though Amadou Bamba seems to have been modest about his divine call, Mourides today view him as almost Muhammad equal (thereby causing extreme consternation from other Muslims, who consider this blasphemy.) Mourides distinguish themselves through complete dedication to Amadou Bamba and the lineage of marabouts that have followed him. The male descendants of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba are considered great religious authorities (marabouts) in Senegal, and the current father of the Mourides is one of his descendants. Devout Mourides cover the walls of their home and workplace with pictures and sayings of their marabout and wear numerous amulets prepared by their marabouts, to solve their problems. Taxi and bus drivers also plaster their vehicles with stickers, paintings and photos of the marabouts of their respective brotherhoods. The Baay Fal, the most devout group of Mouride disciples, even give up the pillars of Islam, including prayer and fasting, to devote themselves to service to their marabout.

Many Mourides consider Touba, the holy city of Amadou Bamba, as important or more important than Mecca. Pilgrims come to Touba at any time, but the high point of the year is a mass pilgrimage called the Grand Màgal (48 days after the Islamic New Year), which celebrates Bamba's return from exile. At this time, about half a million Mouride followers flock into Touba from all over Senegal and Gambia. The mother of Amadou Bamba, Mam Diarra Bousso, is also considered a holy person by Senegalese people and her burial shrine is located in the city of Porokhane. Twice each year, on a date decided by the Bousso family, many thousands of Senegalese women visit the shrine for a two-day pilgrimage.

The Tijaan brotherhood has its great mosque in the city of Tivaouane (50 kilometers northeast of Dakar on the road to St. Louis). The Tijaan brotherhood has more followers than the Mouride brotherhood but, in terms of organization, discipline and its capacities for mobilization and economic entrepreneurship, it has much less influence. The Tijaan mosque in Tivaouane is the second most visited pilgrimage site in Senegal.

A view from the minaret, Touba mosque ( Enlarge)

Sunset at the Great Mosque of Touba ( Enlarge)

Martin Gray is a cultural anthropologist, writer and photographer specializing in the study and documentation of pilgrimage places around the world. During a 38 year period he has visited more than 1500 sacred sites in 165 countries. The World Pilgrimage Guide web site is the most comprehensive source of information on this subject.

The Great Mosque of Touba: Spiritual Home of the Mouride Brotherhood - History

Grande Mosquée de Touba, Senegal

Grande Mosquée de Touba, Senegal.

Window to my soul. Grande Mosquée de Touba, Senegal.

Grande Mosquée de Touba, Senegal

Great mosque of Touba

Grande Mosquée de Touba

My Senegalese French teacher, Madame Fatou, once told me: &ldquoif you want to understand Senegal, you have to understand four things: culture, colonial history, regional politics and religion.&rdquo In one memorable lesson, Madame Fatou taught me about the different Muslim brotherhoods of Senegal. I found it fascinating. The religious aspect of the country is one that interests me most. With my Somali family background, there are many aspects that feel familiar. I think part of the reason why I love Senegal so much is because it makes me dream of what Somalia could look like. At the same time, Senegal feels strangely unique with its perfect mix of traditionally Senegalese and Islamic customs and traditions.

The city of Touba holds special significance. A 2.5 hours&rsquo drive from Dakar, Touba is the capital of one of Sengal&rsquos largest Muslim brotherhoods: the Mourides. Its founder, Sheikh Amadou Bamba Mbacke is a highly revered figure. The only surviving photograph of him can be found everywhere, from taxis to murals and shops. In 1887, Amadou Bamba founded the Great Mosque of Touba (which was completed in 1963). After fierce opposition to France&rsquos colonial rule, Amadou Bamba was exiled in 1895 and 1903. When he finally returned, Amadou Bamba&rsquos following and influence had grown significantly. After a powerful life lived, Amadou Bamba died in 1927 and was buried in the Grand Mosque of Touba.

Every year, followers of Senegal&rsquos Mouride brotherhood engage in the Grand Magal of Touba. This religious pilgrimage - which is also a televised event - is attended by millions of followers to celebrate their founder. My friend Aldi Diassé documented the Magal in 2018. You can find the Story Highlight on his Instagram page . I visited the Grand Mosque of Touba in 2017 (organised by Andaando Tours ). If you have the time, it&rsquos a road trip worth taking.

Mouride Sufi Brotherhood

The Mouride Sufi Brotherhood is a sect of Islam that boasts over four million followers today, mostly concentrated in Senegal and Gambia.

The Mouride Sufi Order was founded by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba in 1883 in the Senegambia region of West Africa. At this period there was a great deal of social dislocation and economic hardship in this region because of the impact of colonialism. Bamba thought that people needed to be more directly connected with Allah through hard work and prayer. He also taught his pupils that they should be responsible for their behaviors, have a useful occupation, and should be self-reliant. Originally the followers of the Mourides were youth, former slaves, and soldiers of the colonial administration or those from the Wolof ethnic group.

The Mouride Brotherhood promotes pious adherence to the teachings and laws of the Quran. Though education is encouraged, one is also able to connect with Allah through hard work. If a follower is productive enough he is forgiven for not praying five times a day because his dedication to work is seen as a form of prayer. The Mouride order is unique among Muslim Brotherhoods because its leaders inherited their positions as Sheikhs through bloodlines through this women are allowed to become Sheikhs.

The Mouride Brotherhood does not force submission of its followers the Sheikhs cannot excommunicate individuals from the faith. However, followers are expected to give generously or work to support the economic ventures controlled by the Brotherhood. In turn the Sheikh, who controls these donations, will often lend or give money to followers who fall on hard times. This provision is central to their belief in group self-sufficiency.

Touba, the most famous Mouride city, is the largest city in Senegal outside of Dakar. It was founded in 1887 by Bamba’s sons and his followers. It is known as a center for groundnut production and most of Touba’s residents are active in farming and shipping the groundnut harvest. Some followers consider Touba to be a holier site than Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Touba also boasts the Great Mosque which is one of the largest mosques in all of Africa.

Related stories

In Wolof, Magal means “celebration” and rightly so, as the “Grand celebration” attracts millions of pilgrims to the Holy City of Touba, otherwise known as “little Mecca”. This festival is the largest gathering ever in Senegal. From inception, the numbers have risen from thousands of attendees to about four million in recent years.

On the 18 th day of Safar, which is the second month of the Islamic calendar, the Grand Magal is commemorated and that accounts for the different dates every year.

This year, celebrations started on Tuesday, October 6, and it was observed as a national holiday because the Mouride brotherhood is one of the most powerful voices in Senegal who can enforce certain rules and regulations that others in Senegal cannot. So regardless of one’s religious affiliation, the holiday is observed by all.

Bamba founded the Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. Bamba is a mystical Senegalese religious leader, writer, and preacher of hard work, pacifism and courtesy and hailed as a renewer of Islam or a mujaddid.

In 1887, Bamba founded the little village, Touba, which is now the second-most populous city in Senegal and home to the Great Mosque, the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa standing at 87-metre (285-foot).

The Holy City, Touba, is home to sacred Mouride sites like the mausoleum of Bamba and his descendants, the Central Library of Touba and the “Wall of Mercy.”

At the time, the French thought he was leading a revolt against them because of how fast his influence grew in the West African nation. He was then exiled to Gabon and then to Mauritania by the French colonial authorities in 1895 to end his influence on the people. Word of his pacifist struggle against the horrendous conditions he found himself got around and he rather gained a core following.

The French, after observing Bamba’s way of life even in exile, realized he was not a rabble-rouser and lifted the ban on his return to Senegal in 1910.

Since then, the festivities celebrate his life and teachings and return from exile. Essentially, he instructed the celebrations of the Grand Magal and it has been so since 1946. However, between 1928 and 1945, his son and successor celebrated the festivities on his death day, instead. Bamba died in 1927.

Magal is a time for communal bonding because one of the splendors of the pilgrim is the reinforcement of love for one another and hospitality.

The celebration is characterized by religious acts like the visit to the Grand Mosque where pilgrims circumnavigate, chanting and paying their respect and slipping coins. They visit the mausoleum of Bamba believed to have spiritual power or barakah. Then, there are visits to personal religious leaders or marabouts and other holy sites in Touba.

The secular aspect of the celebrations is characterized by eating and merry-making. Lunch and dinner are also eaten from a communal plate set up in Senegal, so everyone is sorted when it comes to food as well. Pilgrims also get to enjoy discounted goods at the markets since there is less regulation, making their wares cheaper than the rest of the cities.

The pacifist life of the founder drives the hospitality shown to the pilgrims during the celebrations. Pilgrims are housed freely by Touba residents. In the era of COVID-19, social distancing protocols will be hard to observe as this event is said to be one of the biggest so far to be held anywhere in the world since the pandemic hit.

Nonetheless, the health minister of Senegal, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, told reporters there will be 5,000 officials from his ministry in Touba to respond to all the necessary health concerns and monitor the situation on the ground.

Lariam Dreams

*   One famous disciple of Bamba,  Ibra Fall , was known for his dedication to  God , and considered work as a form of adoration. Amadou Bamba finally decided that Ibra Fall should show his dedication to God purely through manual labor. Ibra Fall founded a sub-group of the Mouride brotherhood called the  Baye Fall  ( Baay Faal  in  Wolof ), many of whom substitute hard labor and dedication to their  marabout for the usual  Muslim  pieties like  prayer  and  fasting .

Sheikh Ibrahima Fall was one of the first of Amadou Bamba's disciples and one of the most illustrious. He catalysed the Mouride movement and led all the labour work in the Mouride brotherhood. Fall reshaped the relation between Mouride "talibes" (disciples) and their guide, Amadou Bamba. Fall instituted the culture of work among Mourides with his concept of  Dieuf Dieul , ("you reap what you sow"). Ibra Fall helped Sheikh Amadou Bamba to expand Mouridism, in particular with Fall's establishment of the Baye Fall movement. For this contribution, Serigne Fallou, the 2nd  Caliph after Amadou Bamba, named him "Lamp Fall" (the light of Mouridism). In addition, Ibrahima Fall earned the title of  Babul Mouridina , "the entrance in Mouridism."

The members of the Baye Fall dress in colorful ragged clothes, wear their hair in  dreadlocks  which are called  ndiange  or 'strong hair' , carry clubs, and act as security guards in the annual  Grand Magal pilgrimages to Touba. In modern times the hard labor is often replaced by members roaming the streets asking for financial donations for their  marabout . Several Baye Fall are talented musicians. A prominent member of the Baye Fall is the Senegalese Musician  Cheikh Lo .  (from Baye Fall )

**   Touba is the  holy city  of  Mouridism . Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, Senegal's most famous  Sufi , was more than a spiritual master he had a social mission as well, that of rescuing society from  colonial  alienation and returning it to the "Straight Path" of  Islam . The city of Touba played a major role in both these endeavors.

Life in Touba is dominated by Muslim practice and Islamic scholarship. A major annual pilgrimage, called the  Grand Magal , attracts between one and two million people from all over Senegal and beyond, from as far away as  Europe  and  America . Other, minor pilgrimages occur throughout the year.

For Mourides, Touba is a sacred place. Forbidden in the holy city are all illicit and frivolous pursuits, such as the consumption of  alcohol  and  tobacco , the playing of games, music and dancing. The Mouride order maintains absolute control over its "capital" to the exclusion of usual state-run civil and administrative services. The city constitutes an administratively autonomous zone with special legal status within  Senegal . Every aspect of its city’s life and growth is managed by the order independently of the state, including education, health, supply of drinking water, public works, administration of markets, land tenure, and real estate development.  (from Touba )

+ At the heart of the Mouride holy city lies its Great Mosque, purported to be one of the largest in  Africa . Since its completion in 1963 it has been continuously enlarged and embellished. The  mosque  has five minarets and three large domes and is the place where Amadou Bamba, founder of the Mouride brotherhood, lies buried. The mosque's 87-metre (285 ft) high central  minaret , called  Lamp Fall , is one of Senegal's most famous monuments. The name  Lamp Fall  is a reference to  Sheikh Ibrahima Fall , one of Bamba's most influential disciples.

The immediate vicinity of the mosque houses the  mausolea  of Aamadu Bàmba's sons, the  caliphs  of the Mouride order. Other important institutions in the center of the holy city include a library, the Caliph's official audience hall, a sacred "Well of Mercy", and a cemetery.  Shaykh Bara Mbacké , the current leader of the Mourides, is the sixth Caliph of Mouridism and the first not be a son of Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke. Like his predecessors, he resides in a large compound on the main square facing the Mosque. (from Mouride )

A religious prayer leader, poet and monk, Ahmadou Bamba founded the Mouride brotherhood in 1883 and the city of  Touba . In one of his numerous writings, 'Matlabul Fawzeyni' (the quest for happiness in both worlds), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba describes the purpose of the city which he founded in 1887. In his concept, Touba should reconcile the spiritual and the temporal. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba intended to have the spiritual capital of his brotherhood showing all the characteristics of a Muslim city. Reuters translated a notable phrase attributed to him, "Work as if you will live forever and pray as if you will die tomorrow."  (from Bamba )

***   Sometimes the zhikr is in pure a capella, some other times the zhikr is accompanied by drums.

Zhikrullah is the highest form of communication with Allah.   It takes the Murid to the hermetic abode of the divine without having to enter halwa, a solitary retreat for forty days.   Such penetration into the esoteric secrets of the zhikrullah are beyond any attempt to explore for those who have not yet reached the ultimate state of those rightly guided.   Allah dwells in the heart of those who do not have a grain of sand or black marks in their heart, and those are the ones whose eye of the heart are widely opened.   These are the Sufis whose hearts are polished by the remembrance and the love of their sovereign.   A heart in which Allah dwells knows everything that is manifest and hidden.   They do not desire anything in this worldly life, and detached from the vast majority of society, their only joy is to serve Allah and His prophet, through the guidance of the eminent Shaykha.   A handful of gold powder in their right hand is of a same value to them as a handful of sand in their left.

Baye Fall are very often considered as heretics who practice shirk. For most people, not only do they (the Baye Fall) not pray five times a day, but they find an associate to Allah by saying La ilaha ill Allah Fall .    They wear their (hair) as locks, wear patchwork rags, and all sorts of prayer beads and amulets. They use wooden clubs, swords and knives, hitting and stabbing themselves during ceremonies of zhikr.   La ilaha ill Allah Fal, for people with no understanding, condemn it as shirk, not being familiar with Baye Fall.   From a mystic perspective, the two letters Fa and Lam stand for Fadilu ilahi , the Elected of Allah, and Laminu ilahi , the Trustworthy of Allah.    (from Zhikrullah ) 


Ahmadou Bamba was born in 1853 in the village of Mbacké (Mbàkke Bawol in Wolof) in Baol, the son of Habibullah Bouso Mbacke, a Marabout from the Qadiriyya, the oldest tariqa (Sufi order) in Senegal, and Maryam Bousso. [2]

Bamba was the second son of Maam Mor Anta Saly Mbacke and Maam Mariyama Bousso. Both of his parents were descended from the well-known patriarch Maam Mahram Mbacke, with their ancestors hailing from Fouta, northern Senegal. The following list of ancestors, descendants, and companions of Sheikh Bamba has been adapted from Mbacke (2016). [3]

  • Maam Mor Anta Saly Mbacke (father). His master was Muhammad Sall, who hailed from Bamba village.
  • Mame Diarra Bousso (Mama Diaara Bousso) (mother). Her family came from Golléré, a village near Fouta and Mbacké. Today, Mama Diaara is celebrated annually by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at Porokhane, where she remains buried.
    • Maam Mor Anta Saly (Mama Diaara Bousso's father) was a highly respected Islamic scholar.
    • El Hadji Malick Sy Tidiane (great-great-grandson of Maam Mahram Mbacke). El Hadji Malick Sy Tidiane's paternal grandmother was Maam Maty Mbacke (the daughter of Mame Thierno Farimata Mbacke, who was Maam Mahram Mbacke's son).
    • Sheikh Bachir Mouhamadoul (son) was Amadou Bamba's biographer.
    • Sheikh Mouhamadou Lamine Bara Mbacke (1891-1936). Third son.
      • Serigne Sidi Moukhtar Mbacké (grandson). Seventh caliph of the Mouride Brotherhood. Son of Sheikh Mouhamadou Lamine Bara Mbacke.
      • Serigne Moustapha Mbacke Bassirou (grandson). Eldest son of Sheikh Mouhamadoul Bachir. He modernized Porokhane village, founded the Maam Diaara foundation, and set up a girls' boarding school in Porokhane that can accommodate 400 students.
      • Serigne Sheikh Gaindé Fatma (grandson, and also the first caliph's eldest son). Gaindé Fatma founded French-language and Arabic-language schools, provided scholarships, and was an important community figure who focused on advancing education in Senegal.
      • Serigne Mouhamadou Lamine Bara Mbacké. Sixth caliph of the Mouride Brotherhood, and the nephew of the fifth caliph Serigne Saliou Mbacké.
      • Maam Mor Diarra, uterine brother. Today, he is revered by his city, Sahm.
      • Maam Thierno Birahim Mbacke, younger brother. He took care of Bamba's family and community while he was exiled by French colonial authorities. Today, he is revered by his city, Darou Mousti.
      • Maam Sheikh Anta Darou Salam, a Mouride businessman. Today, he is revered by his city, Darou Salam.
      • Serigne Massamba. He copied Bamba's writings.
      • Serigne Afe Mbacke

      Other important people associated with Bamba: [3]

      • Sheikh Mouhamadou Lamine Diop Dagana, Bamba's biographer and companion
      • Serigne Dame Abdourahmane Lo, teacher of Bamba's children
      • Sheikh Adama Gueye, the first Mouride follower
      • Maam Sheikh Ibrahima Fall, founder of the Baye Fall community

      Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded the Mouride brotherhood in 1883, with its capital in Touba, Senegal. Today, Touba serves as the location of the sub-Saharan Africa's largest mosque, which was built by the Mourides. [8]

      Ahmadou Bamba's teachings emphasized the virtues of pacifism, hard work and good manners through what is commonly known as Jihādu nafs which emphasizes a personal struggle over "negative instincts." [1] As an ascetic marabout who wrote tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Quranic study, he is perhaps best known for his emphasis on work and industriousness.

      Bamba's followers call him a mujaddid ("renewer of Islam"), citing a hadith that implies that God will send renewers of the faith every 100 years (the members of all the Senegalese brotherhoods claim that their founders were such renewers).

      Abdoul Ahad Mbacke, the third Caliph (Mouride leader) and son of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, declared that Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba had met the prophet Muhammad in his dreams, a tale that has become an article of faith for Mouride believers. During the month of Ramadan 1895, Muhammed and his companions appeared to him in a dream in Touba to confer upon him the rank of mujaddid of his age, [9] and to test his faith. [10] From this, Bamba is said to also have been conferred the rank of "Servant of the Prophet." [11]

      He founded the city of Touba in 1887. In one of his numerous writings, Matlabul Fawzeyni (the quest for happiness in both worlds), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba describes the purpose of the city, which was intended to reconcile the spiritual and the temporal.

      As Bamba's fame and influence spread, the French colonial government worried about his growing power and potential to wage war against them. He had stirred "anti-colonial disobedience" [12] and even converted a number of traditional kings and their followers and no doubt could have raised a huge military force, as Muslim leaders like Umar Tall and Samory Touré had before him. During this time, the French army and French colonial government were weary of Muslim leaders inciting revolts as they finished taking over Senegal. [12]

      The phobia of the colonial administration at the place of any Islamic movement made the judgements given to the Privy Council often constitute lawsuits of intention to religious leaders. Stopped in Diéwol, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba was transferred to the office of the Governor of the colonial administration in Saint-Louis (Senegal). On Thursday September 5, 1895, he appeared before the Privy Council (Conseil d'Etat) of Saint-Louis to rule on his case. Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba prayed two rakat in the Governor's office before addressing the Council, declaring his firm intention to be subjected to God alone. With this symbolic prayer and stance in the sanctuary of the deniers of Islam, Bamba came to embody a new form of nonviolent resistance against the aims of colonial evangelists. [13] Proof of Bamba having recited these prayers is not included in colonial archives, but is rather based on the testimonies of his disciples. [12] As a result of Bamba's prayers, the Privy Council decided to deport him to "a place where its fanatic preachings would not have any effect". [13] and exiled him to the equatorial forest of Gabon, where he remained for seven years and nine months. While in Gabon, he composed prayers and poems celebrating Allah.

      From the beginning of the 19th century, the imperialist policy of France ended with the defeat of all the armed resistance movements in Senegal and the installation of a policy of Christianization and assimilation of the new colony to the cultural values of the metropolis. This led to a policy of exile or systematic elimination of the Muslim spiritual guides who openly spoke out against the colonial government. Thus, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, whose only alleged crime was persisting in preaching his religion(Islam), was subjected to all manner of deprivation and trials for 32 years. Exiled for seven years to Gabon and five years to Mauritania and placed under house arrest in Diourbel, Senegal for fifteen years, Ahmadou Bamba nevertheless did not cease to defend the message of Islam until his death in 1927. [13]

      In the political sphere, Ahmadou Bamba led a pacifist struggle against French colonialism while trying to restore a purer practice of Islam insulated from French colonial influence. In a period when successful armed resistance was impossible, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba led a spiritual struggle against colonial culture and politics. Although he did not wage outright war on them as several prominent Tijaan marabouts had done, he taught what he called the jihād al-'akbar or "greater struggle," which fought not through weapons but through learning and fear of God.

      As Bamba gathered followers, he taught that salvation comes through complete submission to God and hard work. The Mouride order has built, following this teaching, a large economic organisation, involved in many aspects of the Senegalese economy. Groundnut cultivation, the primary cash crop of the colonial period, was an early example of this. Young followers were recruited to settle marginal lands in eastern Senegal, found communities and create groundnut plantations. With the organisation and supplies provided by the Brotherhood, a portion of the proceeds were returned to Touba, while the workers, after a period of years, earned ownership over the plantations and towns.

      Fearing his influence, the French sentenced him to exile in Gabon (1895–1902) and later in Mauritania (1903–1907). However, these exiles inspired stories and folk tales of Bamba's miraculous survival of torture, deprivation, and attempted executions, and thousands more flocked to his organization. [14]

      By 1910, the French realized that Bamba was not interested in waging violent war against them, and was in fact quite cooperative, eventually releasing him to return to his expanded community. In 1918, they rewarded him with the French Legion of Honor for enlisting his followers in the First World War: he refused it. They allowed him to establish his community in Touba, believing in part that his doctrine of hard work could be made to work with French economic interests.

      His movement continued to grow, and in 1926 he began work for the great mosque at Touba.

      After his death in 1927, he was buried in Touba at a site he had chosen, adjacent to the future location of The Grand Mosque. [15] He was succeeded by his descendants as hereditary leaders of the brotherhood with absolute authority over the followers. Currently, Serigne Mountakha Mbacké is the Khalifa-General, Ahmadou Bamba's oldest living grandson who holds the brotherhood's highest office. [8]

      As the founder of Mouridism, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is considered one of the greatest spiritual leaders in Senegalese history and of the biggest influences on contemporary Senegalese life and culture. Mouridism is today one of Senegal’s four Sufi movements, with four million devotees in Senegal alone and thousands more abroad, the majority of whom are emigrants from Senegal. Followers of the Mouride movement, an offshoot of traditional Sufi philosophy, aspire to live closer to God, in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad's example. Today, Ahmadou Bamba has an estimated following of more than 3 million people and parades occur around the world in his honor, including in various cities in the USA. [16] One such city is New York, where Muslims of West African descent have organized an "annual Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Day parade" for over twenty years. Celebrations like these create platforms to "redefine the boundaries of their African identities, cope with the stigma of blackness, and counteract an anti-Muslim backlash". [17]

      Every year, millions of Muslims from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Touba (known as the Magal), worshipping at the mosque and honoring the memory of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. [18] [19]

      Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba has only one surviving photograph, in which he wears a flowing white robe and his face is mostly covered by a scarf. This picture is venerated and reproduced in paintings on walls, buses, taxis, etc. all over Senegal. This photo was originally taken in 1913 by "French colonial authorities". [20] As an art form and spiritual object, Bamba's photograph functions as more than a mere image, rather it is also "a living presence" through which his baraka flows. [21]

      Modern Mourides contribute earnings to the brotherhood, which provides social services, loans, and business opportunities in return. [22]

      Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is also known to have invented Café Touba. Bamba traditionally mixed coffee and spices together for medicinal purposes, and served it to his followers. [23]

      Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour has claimed to be a follower of Mouridism. His 2004 Grammy-winning album Egypt features multiple songs that praise Bamba. [24]

      Amadou Bamba is the author of various manuscripts, most of which are currently held at the library of the Great Mosque of Touba. Below is a selection of Bamba's writings: [25]



  1. Thaddius

    You rarely know who writes on this topic now, it is very pleasant to read, I would advise you to add more pictures!

  2. Willard

    Authoritative answer, curious ...

  3. Ulmar

    Great phrase and timely

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